The HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship paid its first visit to the Donington Grand Prix circuit since 2014 on 23rd and 24th September in what would be our penultimate race meeting of the season. Donington is situated on top of a hill so there can be a chilly wind in late September but Saturday was warm and sunny with clear blue skies and only a pleasant light breeze. Sunday’s weather would be more unsettled but we will get to that later in this report.
It is fair to say that qualifying did not quite go to plan… We were due out at 11.55 on Saturday morning and the lunch break was due to take place immediately after our session. However, as Tom Hill was proceeding apace down the Craner Curves on his second lap a HUGE cloud of smoke appeared causing consternation among the officials – was it oil or was it water? The answer was not long in coming – it was oil – and as he pulled off the circuit the red flag appeared as it was clear that there would be a good deal of clearing up to do. The decision was taken to abort the session and take the lunch break early.
When Tom’s car was returned to the pit garage minus its oil it was discovered that the main line to the oil cooler had been blown off, the pipe having failed at its junction with the cooler, and Roger Evans and Graham Seager set to work to see if it could be repaired. Tom had switched the engine off quickly so there was a good chance the engine was OK.
Qualifying resumed at 1.20 PM (minus Tom and Roger) and all the quickest times were set late in the session. Mike Hilton’s 4C was quickest initially ahead of Simon Scott, making a welcome return to the Championship after an 18-year gap (!) in the Alfa Workshop MiTO. However, both were eclipsed on lap 5 and thereafter by Jamie Thwaites in the TCR Giulietta who went quicker and quicker as the truncated session progressed culminating in a final lap of 1:41.50 to take a dominant pole. The time was quicker than Tim Lewis’s long standing outright lap record so the record would be broken if Jamie could match or better that in one of the races. Second quickest was Simon Scott in the MiTO some 5 seconds adrift but it was an excellent result given it was the first time he had raced what is a very quick car after a long gap from racing. Mike Hilton was battling with mechanical and electronic gremlins in the 4C but a 1:47.91 put him third on the grid and with a long time gap before the first race was hoping for a smoother run later in the afternoon.
Mark Skeggs has been going faster and faster in his GTV as the season has progressed and a best time of 1:51.12 would put him on the outside of the second row, a fine effort. Dave Messenger was 5th in his 156 GTA taking the V6 Class pole with a time of 1:54.37 on his penultimate lap just ahead of the evergreen Andy Page in his Giulietta 116 Turbo. Tom Hill was 7th having completed only the one lap but the fact that he had competed on the Donington GP circuit in June in a Monoposto event enabled him to qualify – by applying the 365-day rule – without having to complete any further laps. Stacey Dennis was the final runner in the group that would form the front section of the split grid in her newly purchased Power Trophy class Giulietta with a time of 1:59.25.
In the Twin Spark Cup James Ford once again led the field and a best time of 1:57.69 was inside the lap record so again, like Jamie Thwaites in the Modified class, a new race lap record was on the cards conditions permitting. Toby Broome was second quickest, edging out Richard Ford by half a second in third. Edward Robinson was only 1.4 seconds adrift of Richard in fourth in his 156, making excellent progress in only his third race meeting, and Adrian Norman rounded out the field in his beautifully presented 147.
Roger Evans had repaired Tom Hill’s GT in time for Tom to race but a packed afternoon race timetable and the fact that he had not raced on the circuit within the past 365 days meant sadly that Roger had to sit out the first race, with arrangements made to complete the necessary 3 qualifying laps on Sunday morning so he could participate in race 2.
The cars assembled on the grid for Race 1 early Saturday evening in fine but cooling weather. Mike Hilton stalled momentarily as the green flag dropped for the formation lap but he was able to recover his correct grid position to take the start. The start was a good clean one – if a little slow – and by the end of lap 1 Jamie Thwaites had a 3-second lead over Simon Scott in 2nd, with Mike Hilton 3rd followed through by Tom Hill, Mark Skeggs, Andy Page, Dave Messenger and Stacey Dennis in that order. The Twin Sparks also made a good clean start on the flag 10 seconds later and completed lap 1 in grid order.
There was no change in the running order till lap 3 when Mark Skeggs had a trip through the gravel; he managed to extricate himself and continue but lost a lot of time and on lap 5 found himself with unresponsive brakes resulting in another trip to the gravel at the final corner and this time into retirement. Brake problems were becoming the order of the day as Simon Scott also found himself almost brakeless at McLeans and beached the MiTO in the gravel there ending his race. Toby Broome was also having brake problems but was managing them until his steering wheel snapped off at the final corner on lap 6. He managed to wrestle the car slowly off the circuit and out of harm’s way but that ended his race, moving Edward Robinson and Adrian Norman into 3rd and 4th place respectively in the Twin Spark class.
After these incidents the field was well spaced out by lap 7. Jamie Thwaites had a commanding lead, his lap times in and around the 1:43s and some 26 seconds ahead of Mike Hilton who was now second overall but troubled by his car not running cleanly; nevertheless he still had some 28 seconds in hand over Tom Hill in 3rd. Tom was followed by Andy Page who was circulating with Dave Messenger only a couple of seconds behind and a few seconds ahead of Stacey Dennis’s Power Trophy class Giulietta.
In the Twin Spark Cup, James Ford was looking unstoppable once again. He had Toby Broome and Richard Ford in close attendance until Toby’s demise on lap 6, but was able gradually to extend his lead over Richard to about 15 seconds at the chequered flag. His fastest lap – a 1:56.94 on his third tour – was a new Twin Spark Cup lap record. Richard was well clear of Edward Robinson in 3rd who was delighted to break the 2 minute barrier for the first time on his final lap, with Adrian Norman rounding out the finishers and 4th in class. At the front Jamie Thwaites took an excellent and dominant win with Mike Hilton and Tom Hill taking the other 2 podium places ahead of Andy Page, Dave Messenger and Stacey Dennis in that order.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Stacey Dennis|
|Twin Spark Cup||James Ford|
Roger Evans duly went out to qualify for Race 2 on Sunday morning with the BMWs but a repetition of the problem on Tom’s GTA on his own 147 GTA occurred and this time the car could not be repaired at the circuit. Revs Italia cars have raced with these oil pipe fittings for years with no problem and for two to fail on the same weekend was extraordinarily bad luck, so Roger sadly had to sit race 2 out as well as race 1.
All the drivers who had experienced car problems in race 1 were ready to go for race 2 on Sunday, their respective preparers having done their usual excellent job in sorting them out. The weather, however, was much more unsettled than it had been the previous day. Strong southerly winds were blowing bank after bank of clouds over the circuit, puntuated by clear spells, and although the showers had tended to be brief enough not to affect track conditions too much this meant there could be problems at some point over tyre choice.
Our race was the last event scheduled before the lunch break and slick tyres were the obvious choice as the track was more or less dry but as the cars took to the circuit from the assembly area it started to rain again. As the cars went off on their green flag lap with the majority of the field on slicks, the rain intensified rather than stopping. Looking down the pit lane towards Redgate a wall of rain was visible blowing over the circuit from the south and the Clerk of the Course delayed and then postponed the start as it was deemed too slippery for slick shod cars. The lunch break was taken and the cars would reassemble in an hour’s time at 1.15.
The rain had continued sporadically during the lunch break but there was a clear dry line so slicks again seemed to be the right choice for race 2; only Andy Page gambled on wet tyres hoping for more rain. That choice seemed to pay off at the start as he went through Redgate with only Jamie Thwaites ahead of him but by the end of the lap he had dropped to sixth; still, perhaps it would rain later in the race… As in race 1 Jamie had a 3-second lead at that point, this time ahead of Mike Hilton in 2nd, Tom Hill 3rd and Simon Scott in 4th having made up four places. Simon’s progress continued on lap 2 as he passed Tom Hill for third but then a misfire set in. He dropped back to 5th on lap 3 and on lap 4 retired the car.
The Twin Sparks made a good clean start in grid order initially but as he was exiting the Melbourne loop making a move for second place in class Toby Broome coasted to a halt on the inside of the track. With the help of the marshals he rolled the car back onto the grass out of harm’s way and after what seemed like an age but was actually only about 5 minutes the car fired up again and he visited the pits for the Bianco team to check things over. They quickly sent him on his way again and he rejoined, albeit some 2+ laps down. Adrian Norman had passed Edward Robinson on lap 1 but Edward reclaimed the place on lap 2 while up ahead James Ford was again setting the pace and steadily increasing the gap to brother Richard in second.
At the front Jamie Thwaites was looking invincible in the lead and although Mike Hilton held the gap to 3 seconds for a couple of laps Jamie started to extend it and by lap 5 it was 13 seconds. Barring unexpected misfortune the race was his, but could he break Tim Lewis’s long standing lap record in the process? On laps 5 and 6 he was down in the 1:43s; he dropped back into 1:45s for the next couple of laps but then he really got his head down. A 1:42.10 on lap 10 was getting close; he dropped his pace by a second on lap 11 as he lapped more back markers but a mighty effort on his 12th and final lap landed him the record with a scintillating 1:41.41. Superb!
Behind Jamie, Mike Hilton held a solid 2nd place a long way clear of Tom Hill in 3rd till on lap 7 trouble set in – his turbo boost began to fade and then seemed to go altogether. He pitted on lap 8 but the Bianco technicians were unable to remedy the problem so he rejoined to record a finish in 11th place overall and 2 laps down on the leaders, but importantly the 4th in class helped to strenghten his points lead at the head of the Modified class. This left Tom Hill second in his V6 class GT ahead of his class rival Dave Messenger in a fine 3rd place overall. Dave had kept Tom in view for some laps but then steadily fell back.
Andy Page, Mark Skeggs and Stacey Dennis had lost a lot of time to Dave in the opening laps, the gap being over 15 seconds to Mark leading the group on lap 3. From that point on Andy Page’s pace dropped to around 2:04s a lap, his gamble on wet tyres having not paid off and he gradually fell back and finished 8th overall at the chequered flag behind the two leading Twin Sparks. Mark and Stacey, however, settled into an entertaining dice with Mark pulling away on the straights and Stacey closing up in the corners and rather than slowing each other up as usually happens their pace increased. As Dave’s lap times fell away marginally Mark began to reel him in with Stacey close behind. What had been a 16 second gap between Dave and Mark at the end of lap 6 had shrunk to 3 seconds at the chequered flag. Stacey dropped off the pace towards the end but nevertheless it was a fine drive by all 3.
In the Twin Spark Cup James Ford had built up a gap to Richard Ford in second place to around 8 seconds by lap 5 and it stayed at around 7 to 8 seconds thereafter, dropping to 4 seconds at the end as James backed off a little and Richard increased his pace. It was an excellent performance by James which netted him the Driver of the Weekend award. Behind Richard, Edward Robinson netted 3rd place in class having steadily built a gap to Adrian Norman in 4th, and the delayed Toby Broome was the final finisher though he did have the consolation of setting the fastest lap in the class. It was certainly an eventful weekend. The weather and technical issues repeatedly intervened at unexpected junctures and the field was quite spread out sometimes but Jamie Thwaites and James Ford set new class lap records and Tom Hill and Stacey Dennis also established lap records in their respective classes. We now look forward to our final race meeting of the season at the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit on 29th October and a big grid of exciting cars is the order of the day!
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Stacey Dennis|
|Twin Spark Cup||James Ford|
A big thank you to Becky Johnson for supplying the photos. More below.